“Time can be a great healer,” goes a well-versed saying. In the case of Eden Hazard, the phrase may be more truth than tired cliché.
The Chelsea forward was expected to stamp his mark on the World Cup in Brazil – to be the face of a new generation of young attacking talents.
But Belgium disappointed horribly, lurching to a starchy quarter-final exit at the boots of eventual runners-up Argentina.
If Belgium were a let-down as a collective, then Hazard was their deserved fall-guy – the man with the responsibility of sparking their forward line could muster barely a sparkler of inspiration. Hazard was a spectre of the man who has made his name terrorising defences for Chelsea.
Chelsea: Potential summer transfer targets
Chelsea: Potential summer transfer targets
1/9 Paul Pogba
Former Manchester United midfielder was spotted in west London setting the rumour mill into overdrive. The classy French midfielder, still just 21, impressed at the World Cup and has been linked with a blockbuster £60m move to Stamford Bridge, despite the recent arrival of Cesc Fabregas. However, he is also linked with a move to Manchester City as a potential replacement for Yaya Toure.
2/9 Adrien Rabiot
The talented teen put clubs in Europe on alert after rejecting a contract offer from Paris Saint-Germain. Chelsea made a move for the Frenchman in January and have gone back in for him, even though he is highly rated by PSG coach Laurent Blanc.
3/9 Sami Khedira
The German midfielder missed five months for Real Madrid's season with a knee injury and has played just 15 games this term. With Madrid reportedly interested in signing new players in central midfield, Khedira's future at the Bernabeu could be at an end. The 27-year-old is interesting Arsenal, but should Chelsea go in for him too, they would be getting a player that Mourinho knows well and real quality in front of the back four, not dissimilar to club legend Claude Makelele.
4/9 Yaya Toure
An outside bet, of course, but with all the drama surrounding the Toure and Manchester City recently, Chelsea could swoop. A powerhouse of a midfielder with a surprisingly deft touch and devastating skill at the dead ball, the 31-year-old would be huge assent to any team in the world. Toure cost City £24million in 2010, so any offer would have to huge from Chelsea if they are to persuade the Sky Blues to sell to a title rival.
Tottenham's summer signing hasn't quite lived up to the form he reached in Brazil's Confederations Cup victory in 2013 and struggled at the World Cup, but he has still performed well enough to have Chelsea and Real Madrid reportedly interested in acquiring his services. The 25-year-old would fit in well at Stamford Bridge given the Blues' strong Brazilian contingent already. Paulinho had a mixed first season in the Premier League, scored six goals with three assists last season and not the return Spurs were hoping for, and the lure of Champions League football could persuade the midfielder to switch London clubs.
6/9 Fabio Coentrao
With Ashley Cole having joined Roma and Ryan Bertrand also likely to leave, Jose Mourinho will be in need of a quality, experienced left-back and one possibility is Real Madrid's Coentrao. The 26-year-old came close to joining Manchester United in January and is likely to lose his starting place at Madrid when Marcelo is fully fit again next season. Carlo Ancelotti denies any rumours that the Portuguese defender will leave but if the right offer were to be made by Chelsea, he could be on his way to London and nail down a starting role with ease.
7/9 Edinson Cavani
After a season of playing in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG, Cavani looks likely to leave the French side after just one year and become the main man at an English club next season. Chelsea remain interested in the Uruguayan but Chelsea are despite a deal for Diego Costa already complete, but may face competition from Manchester United. The 27-year-old cost PSG €64.5million last summer, so any offer from Mourinho would take a large slice of his funds but with his striking power and goals an almost guarantee, it could be a risk worth going for.
8/9 Radamel Falcao
The Colombian striker did not regain fitness in time for the World Cup but it has given him a good chance to weigh up his future. Seemingly always in transfer rumours despite his €60m switch to Monaco last summer, Falcao is a long-term target of the Blues, though Diego Costa has filled the previously vacant No 9 role. The 28-year-old lit up La Liga during his two seasons with Atlectico Madrid but, mainly because of injury, has failed to live up to his price tag in France. If unrest reports are true, Chelsea could attempt an offer.
9/9 Raphael Varane
Reportedly unhappy at Real Madrid due to his low wages in comparison to his team-mates, the centre back has been linked with a move away. Chelsea are reportedly one of the clubs interested in the France international with Jose Mourinho seeing him as a long-term replacement for John Terry.
To his credit, he now admits that the criticism of Belgium’s collective and individual performances was justified.
“From the perspective of the team, we can always do better,” Hazard told the Belgian newspaper Sudpresse.
“But losing to the eventual finalists (Argentina) and making it to the quarter-finals isn’t so bad.”
Hazard reserved more severe criticism for his own, listless displays that saw him notch just two assists and fail to score. His performances reached their nadir in the knockout stages against Argentina, when he was hauled off after 75 minutes with Belgium still searching for a goal.
He insists however that his failure to perform was not due to a lack of effort expended.
“From my own perspective, I recognise that the criticism that came my way was justified. I tried to give my all, but things didn’t work out as I had hoped.
At least the Blues’ starlet has time yet to achieve on the international stage. “I will have the opportunity to play in perhaps three more World Cups,” he said.
That is true enough. But there have been many players just as naturally talented as Hazard who have performed brilliantly for their clubs, only to stumble time after time in their national colours. The Belgian has his best years ahead of him – yet underachievement can be a difficult skin to shed.Reuse content